In our campus men’s Bible study in college, we celebrated and often cited a rather impressive image from Erwin McManus’ The Barbarian Way: the rhinoceros. The rhinoceros, McManus tells us, can charge at speeds up to 30 mph and can only see 30 feet ahead of itself. Implicitly as young men, it represented masculine spirituality to us—bold, fearless, I suppose somehow faithful. More implicitly, powerful and headstrong. By worse, practical implication, perhaps reckless and uncritical. (How easily the rhino illustration can be used to justify speak-first-ask-questions-later evangelism that offends people but then justifies itself because ‘the Gospel is offensive.’) But my intention isn’t to deconstruct the picture—only to look back upon it and to hear it differently than I could have at 19.
To run at 30 mph and see only 30 feet ahead—somehow I had taken that to be prescriptive, and perhaps that’s how McManus meant it. I now suspect, though, that if there’s anything true here, it’s comes from its being descriptive and seeding some wisdom there.
To run at 30 mph. Life moves at 30 mph, at least; time does. We hurtle through it with a wake behind us that leaves our neighbors impacted. We cannot choose to move faster, only to create the illusion of it through frenetic activity and anxiously racing minds. The rhino isn’t benefited to run at this speed except to be more dangerous. Is this the goal of Christians, of humans? Perhaps it’s a goal instead, if anything, to attempt to slow down, to try if only vainly to move at less than the speed of time, to tread lighter and leave less of a wake. Perhaps to slow ourselves, when it’s much easier to move faster or to be carried along with the current of time, is to bear witness to that undiscovered human freedom that’s disclosed in something like Sabbath, in holy dimension of spirituality.
To see 30 feet ahead. This too seems to me now so clearly a sad statement of fact more than a recommendation. O to be able to see 3,000 feet in front of us! Maybe then we would run at 100 mph or as fast as legs would take us! But we don’t. I feel sometimes, especially as I meditate and pray, that I cannot see thee inches in front of my face; I cannot see beyond the immediate, perhaps a hairsbreadth more if I feel super attuned to my life. Here we recognize the limitations of our human sight, and perhaps we do celebrate it—the design of our humanness, the goodness of our dependence upon each other and upon Gød. Yet perhaps along with our attempts at slowing we do attempt to extend our vision, whether that is through the aide of our communities, of those who see radically different from us, of Gød who gives sight as well as (sometimes, maybe) foresight.
Both of these virtues—slowness and vision—as intentionally chosen and perhaps practiced, I believe come first from our recognizing our human limitations to control our speed or our depth of sight. To recognize them is not necessarily to lament them nor to pride ourselves in them; nor is it to try to transcend them. It is to work within them, what we traditionally call nature, as we attempt to receive an unearned gift, which we traditionally call grace, to experience humanity in ways that cannot be realized apart from the gift. It is that grace, Thomas Aquinas tells us, which perfects nature—even if rhinocerine.
Photo cred: Paul Hudson (https://flic.kr/p/aAFoTF)